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Gatland set for edgy tour

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Why Warren Gatland believes the 2021 Lions tour of South Africa is set to have an 'extra edge'

The Springboks’ World Cup success in Japan earlier this month has teed up a mouthwatering prospect for British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland, who will lead the side to South Africa on their 2021 tour.

“If I was going to be selfish, I think for the Lions it puts an extra edge on it because now we’re going to South Africa to play against the world champions,” the 56-year-old said, according to the Telegraph.

“There would have been more expectation to pick those [England] players to be part of the Lions [starting side], and people saying, ‘If England can beat South Africa in the World Cup then the Lions should win that comfortably’.”

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Gatland finds himself in a unique situation where he will join the Chiefs as the Super Rugby franchise’s head coach in the coming months as he starts his four-year deal with the club, but will step away next June to take a year-long sabbatical and focus on his commitments with the Lions.

Having commitments with both teams could prove to be a difficult balancing act, but the departing Wales boss believes he is in a strong position as he prepares to travel to the Republic in two years’ time.

“The great thing from a Super Rugby point of view is that we’re playing South African teams, so it will be two weeks in South Africa for matches,” he said.

After ceasing work with the Chiefs, he will then “look at the home unions on summer tours, look at who South Africa are playing, recce out there to look at hotels and training venues”.

“The time frame is perfect for me, coaching against those South African teams and tapping into some of the knowledge from a New Zealand perspective, with people who’ve been involved with the South African teams. It’s a great position to be in.”

Following his side’s drawn series against the All Blacks two years ago, Gatland has learned from the experience, where jet lag contributed to their slow start to the tour.

Four days after arriving in New Zealand, the Lions spluttered to a scratchy 13-7 win over the New Zealand Barbarians, and suffered defeats to the Blues and Highlanders in their opening four matches.

Another problem Gatland faced was the wavering commitment of some of his supporting staff, so he endeavours to take a different approach to his staff recruitment process for the South Africa tour.

“A couple of people I spoke to last time indicated they were available, and when it came to it they weren’t. I don’t think that was a brilliant look from both sides, and I learnt from that,” he said.

“Part of what I need to do before any announcements is get round to the four home unions and the chief executives – talk to the coaches about who is in their set-up; coaching and analysts and medical staff wouldn’t be available for the Lions, so we don’t make those approaches.

“Logistically, South Africa is easier because the time difference and not having to deal with the jet lag issue we had in New Zealand, where we arrived on the Wednesday and the first game was on the Saturday.

“There were a lot of people in New Zealand who were surprised the Lions agreed to that schedule because it was very, very tough. The cooperation between South Africa and the Lions has been excellent.”

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Why Warren Gatland believes the 2021 Lions tour of South Africa is set to have an 'extra edge'